The Yankees, Manchester City & USMNT Strikers

Curious title?

If you’re a major league baseball fan, the name Johan Santana was on your mind heading in the 2008 season. Santana was a coveted commodity from the Minnesota Twins, who were looking to deal their ace pitcher before he hit free agency at the end of the year.

The Robinho of pitchers

The Robinho of pitchers

The Yankees, per usual, were considered players in the sweepstakes. However, Brian Cashman, the Yanks GM, balked at the asking price for the starting pitcher (two highly touted pitching prospects) and threw in his hand. Fast forward to 2009 and Cashman is inking contracts for two of the prized free agency (C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett) to enormous offers.

Cashman was asked the difference in spending on the two pitchers this year vs. spending for Santana the year before. His response?

“We didn’t need to give up anything so it was completely additive.”

The asking price, though monetarily higher, was overall less because the Yanks didn’t have to give up any prospects. Starting pitching is that valuable that prospects and proven players are hoarded. Remember that.

But what does this have to do with anything?

Manchester City is a team that has always played second fiddle to Manchester United in the northern England city and in the English Premier League.  Premier League titles since 1990? Manchester City F.C. 0, Manchester United, 11. Enough said.

Taking a number at Man City

Taking a number at Man City

Last year, Manchester City changed ownership to one with deeper pockets. After taking their shopping cart and marching around Europe, they will see no less than 6 and up to 9 1st team strikers take the field as practices begin, including such high profile players as Emmanuel Adebayor, Carlos Tevez, Roque Santa Cruz and Robinho. The USMNT–who we will get to in a moment–would be transformed as a national club with the addition of just one of those strikers.

And that really is the point.

Man City is being a considered a bit of a laughing stock around the EPL right now with the press and even United manager Sir Alex Ferguson poking fun at them for assembling a group of parts that may not go together on the field.

But Man City is not stupid.

Strikers are the starting pitchers of soccer. And by buying them up (without giving up anyone, like prized middie Steven Ireland) Man City has done nothing but been completely additive with the talent on their squad. They know that the glut it too big to work and they know that eventually one, two or maybe up to 5 of the strikers they possess will be sullied by the experience and look for a transfer.

At that point Man City will be dealing from strength and have the most valuable commodity out there. Proven starting strikers who can put the ball in the net.

In two years, Man City will probably have agreed to transfer some of that squad for quality around the pitch that they don’t possess. (Let’s hope it’s for back four help because they are sorely in need of an injection).

And now rounding out this piece, as mentioned before, could you imagine if the USMNT possessed the depth of quality strikers that Manchester City currently boasts. Shouldn’t the U.S. value strikers similarly?

While Bob Bradley has certainly done a fine job of building a defensive minded squad. It’s up to Bob and the rest of the US Soccer program to develop a wealth of strikers at their disposal. The U.S. has consistent veteran and developing quality on the wings, on both the “A” and “B” teams, if you will, with Donovan and Dempsey and Holden and Rogers. However we continually see the U.S. unable to move the ball through the middle of the field. While part of this is attributed to Bradley defensive-minded pairings in the center pitch, the other part of it is lack of effective strikers that opponents fear to drag defenders deeper in positioning. What I am telling you is nothing new of course.

The U.S. saw just a glimpse of what striker quality could do earlier this year in the Confederations Cup — not with prized youngster Jozy Altidore finally on the pitch, but with Charlie Davies making deep runs. It was truly a revelation in the Spain game to see what the U.S. can do with just some speed up top. I can’t remember ever seeing the U.S. in a major game have the picture perfect counter goal that led to the second U.S. score between Landon and Charlie.

Please sir may I have another!

Please sir may I have another!

With Davies, the U.S. actually can play a through ball to put on pressure as opposed to just the up-and-over. And Davies is just one option.

That’s why I, and other fans, should continue to not be content merely with just additions of Altidore and Davies. Frank Dell’Apa (noted Boston Globe and ESPN columnist, and a member of the Massachusetts Sports Hall of Fame I believe) is a writer I typically agree with. However his article earlier this week, I think was off point. Dell’Apa hailed the “new breed of U.S. striker. with Altidore and Davies.

Yes, it is true that the U.S. is better off at striker now than it may have ever been, but that’s like telling a child that it’s okay to pass a test with a 66.

I’m not lamenting the quality of Davies or Altidore (or Ching, Cooper, or anyone else).

My message is: Do you see what just a small threat upfront can do to:

- add excitement for fans

- take pressure off the defense

- open the midfield

So when I see Bob Bradley in the Gold Cup running out Brian Ching time-and-time again, (note: I love Brian’s game. I do. But I know all about it already. I don’t need it in the Gold Cup), or when I see Conor Casey come out against Brazil and Spain, or when I see more recently with Davy Arnaud being left in the game too long, I question some of the U.S. strategy in player development.

Do you remember what was loudest fan cry from the 2006 World Cup and criticism of Bruce Arena? It was not getting enough minutes of Eddie Johnson. It wasn’t that Eddie was the answer, it’s that Eddie was hope up front.

Two years ago for me, I wanted to see Edson Buddle to get a shot whether right or wrong. Er, please don’t comment

Last year, I was clamoring for Kenny Cooper at least to get a look.

The Ferrari of strikers?

The Ferrari of strikers?

I’d like to see the U.S. really focus on developing the striker position, so that we see the results in 2014. I’m not sure “how” and maybe I’m too naive that we have other options.

Let’s see Adu up there maybe just as a look see. Let’s see Dempsey take a few more runs out there.

Earlier this week, I had a column on Wake Forest soccer. Let’s see Cody Arnoux and Marcus Tracey get a shot.

What about Jemal Johnson? How do we get Gabriel Ferrari involved if he’s good enough for Series A already?

Like I mentioned, I’m probably a bit naive on all the inner workings, but I know we need to get some more starting pitchers developed.

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12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mark T on 2009/07/26 at 8:14 AM

    Matt, I am guessing you made the elaborate baseball analogy to antagonize me as a Mets fan, so I’ll bite.

    The baseball analogy only serves to cloud your main point (strikers are very important, like starting pitchers in baseball) and it is doesn’t make sense in relation to the EPL.

    The analogy breaks down as soon as you mention the new “deeper pockets” of Man City. There is no “trading” of players between two teams in professional soccer (with some exceptions, of course). All that matters is cash available and how much a team is willing to spend. With more cash in hand, Man City didn’t have to sell players to acquire strikers, much like the Evil Empire (the Yanks) have an unlimited budget for big name free agents.

    Even so, the acquisitions of players by Man City weren’t all via “free agency” like in the case of the Yankees pitchers. Transfer fees can be akin to trading for players because a team is paying for the exclusive rights to a player which is the difference between the Mets and Yanks acquisitions. The Mets had the exclusive rights to Santana via trade while the Yanks were (technically) bidding against 31 other clubs to secure the services of CC and Burnett. Take just two of the newly minted Man City strikers. Adebayor was acquired via transfer fee (25mm pounds) whereas Tevez was signed from the “free agency” market.

    I won’t even get into the fact that the Mets gave up unproven talent (which, again, doesn’t equate to a “Steven Ireland”) nor the fact that Santana was worth the prospects as he is a better pitcher than CC or Burnett.

    What I will agree with you on is that the US needs a lot more in the way of player development at the striker position. I think the key will be getting strikers play at the top levels of club soccer. Right now, it is hard for Bradley to give the pups a chance (although Adu did get some run early in the GC) when his top line strikers don’t have the opportunity to test quality defense on their club teams (or they ride the pine for the big boys).

    Reply

  2. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/07/26 at 11:53 AM

    Pups! Really pups?

    Gabriel Ferrari plays for Sampdoria of Series A. The same Series A that had soccer press gushing about the Gooch signing.

    Jemal Johnson was signed by Manchester United at 16!

    They are both older and were signed to major teams earlier than Jozy Altidore.

    I’ll address your other Manchester City comments after the U.S. shuts down Mex.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Mark T on 2009/07/26 at 12:02 PM

    Ferrari is 21 and has not played one game in Serie A yet and is on loan in to a club in Italy’s 3rd-Division, Perugia.

    Johnson is what, 19?

    Altidore got the chance, because he was actually producing at the club level, even if it was MLS.

    Reply

  4. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/07/26 at 1:00 PM

    Your comment about young pups is still unfounded for two players who factored in important games for high level professional clubs.

    Altidore sat the bench for Villarreal last year–that goes against your argument.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Mark T on 2009/07/26 at 1:06 PM

    Atlidore was the youngest goal scorer in MLS history. (Hence, my “even if it was in MLS” comment above.)

    Adu and Dempsey should not be getting starters minutes at striker for the US so I disregarded their inclusion.

    My point is that US strikers have a hard time getting minutes on/against quality teams. So the players need the US minutes to develop. Therefore, those minutes can be spread around 8 guys right now.

    Reply

  6. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/07/26 at 1:15 PM

    Agreed on Adu and Dempsey — they are just options, but clearly not the best ones.

    The MLS features major contributions from such “rising” stars as Freddie Ljundberg, Darren Huckerby and Kasey Keller.

    Look at Mexico today, they are featuring Dos Santos with Carlos Vela on the bench. Both are signed to EPL teams and on loan to teams at lower levels.

    Reply

  7. [...] Oh and the Manchester City experiment. The first punch goes to the Light Blues with a 2-0 win on Saturday, admittedly over bottom feeder [...]

    Reply

  8. [...] idea for my first son’s name), it’s clear to see against lesser competition this year Man City might just start pouring in goals. Today they are featuring Adebayor, Tevez and Robinho–Wolverhampton looks a second late to [...]

    Reply

  9. [...] – Speaking of Adebayor and Manchester City, don’t look now but guess who’s been scored on the least in the EPL. That’s right, the Citizens of Manchester City. The team that was deemed all offense and no defense by pundits and fellow managers has two goals against in four league games. Perhaps Man City have the starting pitching to go all the way. [...]

    Reply

  10. [...] Well, we called it and we called it. With Tiger Woods wannabee Craig Bellamy enjoying a resugence, SWP contributing for club and [...]

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  11. [...] of course, Edson Buddle. I can reference this piece which talks about my past infatuation with national team campaigning–long before I started [...]

    Reply

  12. [...] article, here, from last year comparing talent acquisition at Manchester City to the New York Yankees machine [...]

    Reply

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